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Thailand's General Information & History
Thailand General Information
Thailand, previously known as Siam until 1939, has an area of 517,000 sq kilometers and a population of more than 62 million, making it about the size of Texas or France.  Thailand has high cool mountainous terrain.  While limestone-encrusted tropical islands and coast line make up its southern portion.  Travel in this tropical country is comfortable and down-to-earth.
Thailand is distinguished in Southeast Asia for being the only country to have never been externally controlled; which fuels their strong national and independent spirits.  Thailand has been an independent nation since 1238 AD.  Thai culture has remained dominate, even in modern city life.
The population of 62 million is mostly made up of ethnic Thais (75%) and Chinese (14%).  Other minority groups include Malays, Cambodians, Indians, non-Thai hill tribes and some Vietnamese.  Some eight million peoples reside in Bangkok alone.
National Image and Flag
The flag of the Kingdom of Siam was created during the reign of King Rama II and flies on all Siamese sea-going vessels.  The symbol of a white elephant on a red background was chosen because Thai people regard white elephants as an auspicious symbol.
The present national flag, the Trai-rong (three colors) was designed by King Rama VI and first used in September of 1917.  The five horizontal stripes of three colors– red, white, and blue –have significant meanings.  Red is the color of blood to signify the life of the Thai people, white symbolizes the purity of Buddhism, and finally blue represents the monarchy role it plays in daily life of Thais.
The flag is raised daily at 8:00am and lowered at 6:00pm at all official buildings, and public places.  Large private enterprises and schools usually lower the flag with the accompaniment of the Thai national anthem.  The flag is also flown nationwide on national holidays.
National Symbol
The national and royal symbol is the Garunda, a mythical half-bird and half human figure (steed of the Hindu god Vishnu) that adorns His Majesty King Buhmibol's scepter and royal standard.
Although there is no official national dress, the traditional dress has been adopted as the unofficial national costume. For women, it is a full length pha sin, a rectangular piece of cloth worn like a skirt or sarong that is usually made of Thai silk. On formal occasions, a sash may be worn across the chest from the left shoulder to the right side of the waist.
For men, it is the seur phra ratchathan, a short-sleeved shirt with a high collar, and onn formal occasions, it's long sleeves with a cummerbund. Thai is the official language although many inhabitants of the main cities speak English or local dialects.
Thailand's Monarchy
Thai people have a deep and abiding reverence for their Royal Family. The current monarch, the much-beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty), has reigned for over 50 years, the longest of any Thai ruler, and almost of the world.
As a constitutional monarch, the King holds powers very similar to the Queen of England. Though His Majesty maintains neutrality in times of crisis, he has proved to be a tremendously powerful establishing force for the Thai people. The King's immense popularity reflects his keen interest in his people's welfare. His Majesty and the Queen, Queen Sirikit, have devoted a great deal of time and effort to implementing public work projects, with special focus on the less privileged.
Bronze Works & Buddhism
Recent discoveries do hint Thailand as a possible place for some of the first expressions of human ingeniousness. The oldest pottery fund locally have been dated to 6800 B.C. and the excavations at Ban Chiang in the north-east have shorn that bronze works were in use as early as 2000 B.C. putting Thailand on par with Mesopotamia, regarded as the initial Bronze Age culture.
Buddhism probably entered Thailand around the second or Third Century B.C. The first distinctive local civilization known as Dvaravati was an ill-defined and Theravada Buddhism. Dvaravati experienced its greatest flourishing between the sixth and Ninth Century B.C. when it began to fall under Khmer domination. Meanwhile, the Mahayana Buddhist state of Srivijaya centered on Sumatra had extended its influence right up to the southern most part of today's Thailand and left some of the finest stone and bronze statues ever discovered in the country.
Warring States
The Khmer domination lasted until the Thirteenth Century, leaving a deep imprint on Thai art and culture. With it also came the Hindu concept of divine essence of kingship that would later stand as one of the main tenets of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
This period is also marked by the migration of the original Thai ethnic tribes from Yunnan in southern China. From the northern mountains, they progressively moved towards the prosperous plains of the Gulf of Siam then inhabited by the Mons and Khmers. By the end of the Twelfth Century, they formed the majority of the population.
The founding of the first Thai kingdom is Sukhothai in 1238 is generally regarded as the cornerstone of the country's history. Although its truly glorious period was short-lived , The contributions of Sukothai to the definition of a purely Thai style was paramount. The cuneiform alphabet, for example, is still in use today. Most of all, this period is fondly remembered by Thais as a Golden Age when prosperity and the benevolence of the king that citizens were tax exempted.
The con temporary northern kingdom of Lanna centered on Chiang Mai didn't shine with the same prestige as Sukhothai but lasted well into the Sixteenth Century when It fell under Burmese domination. Mean-while, the seeds of a full-blown Thai nation were being planted in southern part of the Chao Phraya basin, the mighty river that irrigates the country's heartland. The site chosen for the founding of Ayutthaya in 1350 allowed the control of the regional trade. Ayutthaya quickly grew in wealth and power, to such an extent that in 1431, Ayutthaya's army crossed over the extensive eastern plains and went to storm Angkor, bringing the mighty Khmer Empire to an end.

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